MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
First things first about our next guest, she's Cate Blanchett.
CATE BLANCHETT: My mother says Blanchett sometimes so that people don't say Blanched, but I don't mind.
BLOCK: So Blanchett. Okay.
BLANCHETT: It was very funny, Faye Dunaway came up to me one day at a screening, she wanted me to do this project and I said, oh, it sounds fantastic. And she said you must meet my fried. Debbie, this is Kate Winslet. And she just - do you want me to do it or do you want Kate to do it?
BLOCK: It seems that Cate Blanchett is everywhere at once on screen these days. In the film "Babel," she's an American tourist shot in Morocco. In "The Good German," she's a prostitute in 1945 Berlin. And in "Notes on a Scandal," she plays Sheba Hart, a high school art teacher in London who has an affair with a 15-year-old student - a disturbing and challenging role.
BLANCHETT: I did find it very confronting, and not that I'm at all into having to relate to a character, quite the opposite really. I think I'm attracted to characters that I know nothing of their experience and so the journey to realize the character is to realize another part in society. But I did find it very important and difficult to liberate Sheba before my sense of judgment. So that was the tricky thing for me.
BLOCK: How did you do that?
BLANCHETT: I think once I began to perceive it as being somebody who needed to self-combust in order to reform, someone who needed to almost destroy the lives that from the outside of perfect existence that they had a privilege existence - happy marriage, children - beginning to embark upon finally for putting herself creatively and professionally. And why does someone need to throw that all into the fire. And I think that that something that I've witness, you know, in my own life. I mean, as supposed when I was younger and also, with friends who can become very destructive when they're almost happy. Then that made sense to me.
BLOCK: There's one scene where your character is talking to Judi Dench, and it's where she is explaining, before anything has really come to light about what's going one. She's explaining the roots of her unhappiness in a way.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NOTES ON A SCANDAL")
JUDI DENCH: (As Barbara Covett) No marriage and kid. I mean, wonderful that doesn't give you meaning. Well, it gives you encouragement, but it - you. My father always used to say you know when the (Unintelligible). The distance between life as you dream is in. I guess it is.
BLANCHETT: (As Sheba Hart) I get what you mean.
BLOCK: It struck me when I was watching that that's pretty slim architecture for you to have to conjure up motivation, and everything that drives her to put her whole life in jeopardy, really.
BLANCHETT: What I love about the screenplay is that it doesn't seek to justify or explain what Sheba has done because there is no justification. Somehow, a connection to us people is it is the desire to self-combust to destroy our selves and to break something open.
BLOCK: I read that you went from wrapping up filming of "Notes on a Scandal," where you're playing this adulterous art teacher and then just within a couple of days, I think, turning to your role as a German prostitute just after World War II in Berlin in "The Good German."
BLANCHETT: That's right. That was insane. Really, insane.
BLOCK: You realize that now?
BLANCHETT: Yes. I knew it's insane at the time, but there is something to be said for adrenalin. First, me having children, and I've got a 5-year-old now. I was terrified when I went back to work after he was born. I thought I have no desire to do it and I have no time to prepare because any extra time you have, you can't spend it reading around and researching in the same degree that you could when you didn't have children, so I think I become a lot more economical and sort of less indulgent in my preparation. I do exactly what I need to do. And you have to be in a very open state when you arrive on set in order to play.
BLOCK: What accounts do you think for this - this unusual period of extreme prolificness on your part? These three movies coming out so soon one after the other: "Babel" and "The Good German" and "Notes on a Scandal."
BLANCHETT: Luck, I think.
BLANCHETT: And the role of "Notes on a Scandal" and playing Sheba, alongside Judi which was a career highlight for me, to say no to that even though it was so hard onto "The Good German," which I really wanted to do. I just couldn't say no to either of them. But I apologize in advance to audiences all around the world for how present I am at the moment.
BLOCK: What is it that you learn at this point in your career when you're working alongside Judi Dench? Are there things that you're still picking up from watching her, listening to her?
BLANCHETT: She's so passionate about it. What she does as an actor I think is evident in her creation of Barbara Covett, who could have in another actresses hands become vampiric. She infuses everything she does with such a deep humanity. It's really very rare.
BLOCK: Do you think much at all about your own longevity as an actor.
BLANCHETT: And I'm not interested in repeating myself and I think it's my disappointments in what I've done that kind of propel me to keep going. And I'm endlessly disappointed, so I suppose I've got a few things left in me, a few roles left in me.
BLOCK: Why are you endlessly disappointed?
BLANCHETT: It's probably the only way to cope with it really because otherwise you just want to keep going back and changing it. Because often once you get to the end of a play or a film you finally realize that - I now understand it. And I think I've realized that that feeling doesn't necessarily mean that you haven't cracked a character. It's just that you've completed the job.
BLANCHETT: I'm not very - I find completion quite unsatisfactory. I like to sort of keep the ends a bit frayed and keep the doors open, I think.
BLOCK: Do you watch your movies?
BLANCHETT: Ooh, now this is something Judi and I have in common. No.
BLANCHETT: And so that generally is the end of it for me. But I did - having said that - I did watch "The Good German" at the premier in Los Angeles the other week, night, because I hadn't seen it and I'd wanted to see it with the score and it's a way of putting it to bed. But it is quite excruciating. But fortunately the film was fantastic.
BLOCK: Well, yeah. I mean you are going to openings all the time.
BLANCHETT: But you sneak out. You sneak out.
BLOCK: Oh, come on.
BLANCHETT: You do. it's a very tricky thing to watch it. And Judi's the same way. She said why would I do that. Why would I put myself through that? It's not for Judi or I, it's for an audience and you really have to give that over.
BLOCK: Well, Cate Blanchett it's been great talking with you. Thanks so much.
BLANCHETT: Thank you.
BLOCK: Cate Blanchett stars in "Babel," "The Good German," and "Notes on a Scandal," which opens next week. In films opening next year, she'll play Queen Elizabeth I and Bob Dylan. There's a clip from "Notes on a Scandal" at NPR.org.
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